PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia 76ers are expected to be without center Andrew Bynum, their prize offseason acquisition, when they open the 2012-13 season Wednesday against a Denver Nuggets team featuring former 76ers' All-Star Andre Iguodala.
Bynum, acquired in August from the Lakers in a four-team trade, is bothered by chronic knee soreness.
The Sixers nonetheless appear to have a leg to stand on. Including Bynum, they have eight new players on their 14-man roster, and appear to be deeper and more explosive than a year ago, when they lost in seven games to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Sixers went 6-1 in the preseason, and sixth-year forward Thaddeus Young, who has been with the team longer than any other player, said this is "definitely" the most talented roster he's been part of in his NBA career.
"We have a great center," Young said. "We have very good scoring wings that can shoot the basketball -- shoot the cover off the ball -- and we've got guys that can get out there and run the court. And we've got aggressors -- guys that are going to go out there, match you pound for pound, rebound the basketball and just defend."
Now it's a matter of everyone accepting his role.
"That's the toughest part," Young said.
As coach Doug Collins said, "We have to be two different teams. We have to be one with Andrew Bynum, and one without. We're figuring out right now who we are without him. We think we can do some good things. ... I like the strides that we've made. When Andrew comes back, we've got to be able to plug him in there, and know who we are with him."
Bynum, 25, had career-high averages of 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds last year with the Lakers. But on Sept. 15 he had a non-invasive procedure performed on both knees in Germany, and on Oct. 22 he had a joint lubricant injected into his right knee. He did not play at all in the preseason, and it is not known when he will be available. The Sixers have said only that they will err on the side of caution.
"He's a big investment for our team," general manager Tony DiLeo said recently. "We want to be cautious. We just have to talk to Andrew every day and see how he's feeling. When he is pain-free, that's when he will start basketball activities."
Second-year man Lavoy Allen, who performed well in last year's playoffs, will start at center in Bynum's place, with Young and Evan Turner at forward and Jason Richardson and Jrue Holiday at guard. Collins has particularly high hopes for Holiday, who last year averaged 13.5 points and 4.5 assists. He will be asked to fill the leadership void left by the departure of Iguodala and fellow veterans Elton Brand and Lou Williams.
The bench, which includes Spencer Hawes and new acquisitions Dorell Wright and Nick Young, is again expected to be a strength. Maalik Wayns, an undrafted rookie point guard from Villanova, also figures to contribute after a strong preseason.
"We think we have guys that can all come in and play," Collins said.
Now it's just a question of when Bynum can get on the court, and how much he will be able to contribute.
"I think they'll be pretty happy with Andrew," Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said during the preseason. "He's arguably one of the best centers in this league -- top one or two, when you look at it. I've always thought of him being right there with (the Lakers') Dwight Howard. The only difference is, he's not the defensive player that Dwight is, but he's probably a better offensive player.
"If he's healthy and he wants to play, he can be a monster. That gives them a different element they haven't had here the last few years -- a guy you can throw the ball to in the post when the game is on the line and can deliver."